In This Issue:
Quotes of the Week
“All sorts of solutions have been proposed, but only one, tutoring, has both a solid and substantial research base and a significant number of proven, practical, cost-effective solutions.”
Robert Slavin (see item #1)
“I don’t expect perfection. I expect improvement.”
Richard Gordon, principal of Paul Robeson High School in Philadelphia, quoted in
“Nation’s Top Principal on Developing Our Greatness” in an Educational Leadership
interview with Sarah McKibben, April 2021 (Vol. 78, #7, pp. 12-13)
“Researchers are, in our experience, frustrated and saddened that teachers do not make greater use of research findings in their practice. But nothing will change until the researchers recognize that their standard methodology is useful for answering research questions, not for improving practice.”
Daniel Willingham and David Daniel in “Making Education Research Relevant”
in Education Next, Spring 2021 (Vol. 21, #22, pp. 28-33)
“It’s possible for two things to be true: for numbers to come up short before the nuances of reality, while also being the most powerful instrument we have when it comes to understanding that reality.”
Hannah Fry in “What Really Counts”, a review of two new books about statistics in
The New Yorker, March 29, 2021
“The aim of history class isn’t to get students to love or loathe their country. It’s to prepare them to live in it.”
Daniel Immerwahr (see item #6)
1. Robert Slavin on Tutoring as a Crucial Post-Covid Intervention
In this article on his website, Robert Slavin (Johns Hopkins University) bemoans the fact that so few U.S. schools are using research-proven programs. Medicine used to have an evidence-to-practice gap, but in the 1900s, penicillin, morphine, sulfa drugs, and cures for polio changed people’s mindset. “These breakthroughs,” says Slavin, “were explicitly engineered to solve health problems of great concern to the public, just as the Covid-19 vaccines were explicitly engineered to solve the pandemic.”
What is to be done about the unfinished learning of millions of students in the wake of the coronavirus? “All sorts of solutions have been proposed,” says Slavin, “but only one, tutoring, has both a solid and substantial research base and a significant number of proven, practical, cost-effective solutions.”
Slavin and several colleagues are launching a new initiative, Proven Tutoring, http://www.proventutoring.org to promote 14 effective tutoring programs for reading and math and organize training and support to take them to scale. The goal is 100,000 tutors who can serve 4 million students. Slavin suggests recruiting and training college-educated tutors “because evidence finds that well-supported teaching assistants get results as good as those obtained by certified teachers” – and getting thousands of tutors certified is not practical in the short term. The idea is to give schools and districts a choice of the proven tutoring programs and then provide PD via webinars to make sure the quality of tutoring is maintained as it’s taken to scale.
If the initiative is successful, says Slavin, this might be the “penicillin/polio/Covid moment” for educational research, proving that it can solve big, practical problems in schools. This could lead to much more widespread implementation of proven programs for teaching reading, algebra, science, ELL instruction, and other areas.
“ProvenTutoring.org: Getting Proven Tutoring Programs Into Widespread Practice” by Robert Slavin, March 2, 2021; Slavin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
2. New Insights on Summer Learning Loss
In this American Educational Research Journal article, Allison Atteberry (University of Colorado/Boulder) and Andrew McEachin (RAND Corporation and Pardee RAND Graduate School) report on their study of grade 1-8 summer learning loss, using an NWEA data set of 18 million students across 50 states. The major findings:
• On average, there is a zig-zag pattern through the grades, with learning gains during the school year and losses over the summer. The fluctuations flatten as students move through the grades, with less gain and less loss each year. However, these averages are misleading since…
• There is dramatic student-to-student variation in summer learning loss. Some students maintain their in-school learning pace over the summer, while others lose almost everything they learned from September to May in summertime.
• Surprisingly, only 4 percent of the variation in summer learning loss is explained by students’ race/ethnicity and socioeconomic status. What is causing almost all of the variation? It’s for “mostly unknown reasons,” say Atteberry and McEachin. “To date we have only limited insight into what accounts for most of that variation.” Further research is needed to pinpoint the role of families’ economic capital, time with children, parenting skills, and expectations over the summer.
• Students who had significant summertime learning loss tended to continue that pattern year after year. “Summer losses accrue to the same students over time in a way that would contribute to the widening of end-of-school student outcomes,” say Atteberry and McEachin. By eighth grade, their cumulative losses left them 40 percent behind where their school-year gains would have left them, widening achievement gaps in the student population.
• This study clearly points to the need for high-quality summer programs – or an extension of the school year – for students who are consistently falling behind. Research is only beginning to identify the key characteristics of effective programs.
• Atteberry and McEachin conducted an interesting thought experiment. If all students hypothetically entered kindergarten with the same learning and skill levels, and learned exactly the same amount each school year, what would achievement look like over time? Even with identical starting points and school-year experiences, the graphs are troubling: there is an ever-widening math and reading achievement gap between students who make progress over the summer and those who lose ground.
• Of course, students enter school with large inequalities in skills and knowledge, some gain more than others during each year, and some teachers and schools have a more-positive impact than others. “The summer can be thought of as a counterfactual to schooling,” say Atteberry and McEachin, “giving us a window into how inequality would grow in the absence of the school’s influence… Should schools be reframed, then, as ‘equalizers’ – ameliorating rather than exacerbating outcome inequality?”
“School’s Out: The Role of Summers in Understanding Achievement Disparities” by Allison Atteberry and Andrew McEachin in American Educational Research Journal, April 2021 (Vol. 58, #2, pp. 239-282); Atteberry can be reached at email@example.com.
3. Six Everyday Supports for Students Who’ve Experienced Trauma
In this Elementary School Journal article, Jessica Koslouski and Kristabel Stark (Boston University) say that few teachers receive training on how to support students who have experienced adversity or trauma. (Nearly half of elementary students have had at least one potentially traumatic event; experts have described trauma as a close encounter with violence or death that violates the child’s sense of control, connection, and meaning.) But even if teachers haven’t had training on trauma, like the teachers in this study, their everyday actions can significantly improve vulnerable students’ school experience. “These organic actions,” say Koslouski and Stark, “likely have important and positive consequences for the students themselves, as well as their peers, teachers, families, and school community.” From in-depth interviews with ten elementary teachers, the authors identified specific practices that benefit all students, but are particularly important for students with the greatest needs.
• Prioritizing relationships with and between students – Building trust and safety and nurturing a calm, supportive classroom community are key priorities. “I think meeting those emotional needs has to come before academics,” said one teacher. “I want them to be happy, feel good about coming to school.”
• Allocating time to teach self-regulation and social skills – This includes using morning meetings to talk about emotions and stress responses and teach conflict resolution and anger management. The interviewed teachers also blocked out time for mindfulness, yoga, movement breaks, and just plain quiet. Some teachers implemented the Open Circle or Responsive Classroom program.
• Providing and advocating for academic, social, and emotional support – This included predictable daily routines; a non-punitive break area where students could color, write, or reflect; giving students choices; and making full use of school counselors, psychologists, social workers, and other supportive staff members.
• Practicing cultural humility and responsiveness – For teachers, this meant rethinking curriculum objectives and materials and taking into account students’ race, ethnicity, language, religions, sexual identity and orientation, citizenship status, (dis)ability, and learning styles. One teacher said she was constantly aware that she wasn’t just teaching the child in front of her but also “their trauma, their history, what they come with, last year’s learning, the previous year’s learning.” In deference to instances of gender fluidity, teachers addressed students as “friends” or “scholars” rather than “boys and girls.”
• Striving to ally with parents – This involved reaching out to parents of students experiencing adversity and trauma; engaging parents who had the time and energy to be involved; and understanding why parents sometimes couldn’t or wouldn’t get involved with the school. Teachers empathized with the competing demands parents’ time and recognized that some were dealing with their own negative experiences in school. Teachers aimed to be flexible and inclusive in their communication with homes, including getting notes translated, to promote maximum engagement.
• Engaging in ongoing learning and reflection – Teachers reflected on their cultural experiences, learned from colleagues and workshops, and rethought classroom approaches (one incorporated yoga on a whim and now uses it daily with her students). Importantly, teachers realized that incorporating small changes each year made the work manageable and could lead to significant changes in their teaching over time. One explained, “I’ve already got the yoga part down… So I’m thinking about the cool-down or quiet-time boxes. I think that’s a really perfect thing to do next year.”
Koslouski and Stark are full of admiration for the ten teachers they interviewed and the everyday ways they supported vulnerable students. However, these teachers’ efforts took a toll: five of the ten were considering leaving the profession because of the extra work they were putting in and the anguish they felt for students whose lives were so difficult. The article closes with a call for better training and support for all teachers so they are not called upon to perform heroics on their own – resulting in students having nurturing experiences throughout their time in school.
“Promoting Learning for Students Experiencing Adversity and Trauma” by Jessica Koslouski and Kristabel Stark in Elementary School Journal, March 2021 (Vol. 121, #3, pp. 430-453); the authors can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com.
4. An Ode to UDL (Universal Design for Learning)
In this Cult of Pedagogy article, author/consultant Katie Novak (University of Pennsylvania) compares the offerings at two schools’ PTO teacher appreciation breakfasts:
– School #1: Bacon, egg, and cheese sandwiches on biscuits (no substitutions)
– School #2: A selection of fruit salad, homemade quiches, scrambled eggs, miso soup, gallo pinto, bagels, croissants, chapattis, churros, apples, coffee, and tea
“Now, I personally love a good ol’ brekkie sammy,” says Novak, “but it certainly won’t meet everyone’s needs. Some staff members may be vegetarian, lactose-intolerant, or gluten-free. Some may be watching their waistlines. And some may think that the sandwich is GROSS. We all can predict the outcome: many will leave hungry, frustrated, and needless to say – unappreciated.
The schools’ breakfast choices are a metaphor for a one-size-all lesson versus a UDL approach. Novak argues that rigid, take-it-or-leave-it lessons severely limit the learning of many students, especially those who don’t do well with traditional pedagogy. “When we design the same learning pathways for all learners,” she says, “we might tell ourselves we are being fair, but in fact, single pathways are exclusionary.”
Novak lists three core principles of effective Universal Design for Learning unit and lesson planning:
• Recognizing human variability – Every student brings a “unique mix of skills, interests, needs, and preferences to the classroom,” she says. “Because of variability, what students need is ever-changing and evolving.” So wouldn’t it be good for a teacher to meet the needs of a specific group of students? Using the breakfast example, should a PTO cater to vegan parents by setting aside plates with sliced tomatoes and plain oatmeal? The problem is that not all vegans like the same things; they want choices too. The same goes for trying to target lessons to student subgroups – ELLs, African Americans, students with disabilities. Within each group, there’s lots of individuality, and kids will want to make choices based on preferences, mood, and who-knows-what. This points to lessons with the widest possible array of choices for all students.
• Providing firm goals and flexible means – The first step is establishing the learning outcomes for a unit or lesson: when it’s finished, here’s what students should know and be able to do. The next UDL question: based on the variability in my class, what barriers may prevent learners from working toward that goal, and how can I eliminate those barriers through design? This leads to planning multiple means of access for students, depending on the content and skills being taught: a lecture, video, texts, hands-on experiments, visiting speaker, etc.
• Offering choice – with accountability – Given a choice of lesson activities, some students may make unwise choices – for example, sitting with friends and spending too much time goofing off. But if everything is programmed, students will become dependent learners. The middle ground, says Novak, is students being able to make some choices and continuously reviewing how things are working in terms of their learning objectives, thus becoming “expert learners.”
Novak compares a sixth-grade health lesson with the same learning objectives taught conventionally and then using UDL:
– The posted learning objective says students will identify ways to reduce their risk of spreading or contracting a communicable disease.
– Students watch a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention video.
– Students write an essay on how to reduce the risk of spreading or contracting Covid-19.
Universal Design for Learning:
– The teacher projects a list of communicable diseases, each paired with a visual: the common cold, strep throat, influenza A, and Covid-19.
– Some students take out their phones, look at their throats, and ask elbow partners, “Does my throat look like that?”
– The teacher asks for additions to the list of diseases, and a student suggests mono.
– The teacher does a mini-lesson on key vocabulary, including risk, communicable disease, community spread.
– One student’s father who is a nurse conducts a brief Zoom chat with the class on the importance of washing hands and wearing masks. As closed captioning displays his words, students ask questions.
– For the next ten minutes, students list as many symptoms as they can for at least one of the diseases; students can work independently, with a partner, or in a small group with the teacher; students can work at standing desks, sitting down, or on the floor.
– Students can write their responses, or draw images, on a graphic organizer.
– As they work, students are encouraged to use their devices for research.
– After a short discussion, the teacher shares some essential questions and students choose from several ways to learn more about communicable diseases: watching the CDC video (in English or Spanish), reading a Newsela article, reviewing pamphlets from the nurse’s office, or exploring a combination of resources.
– The teacher circulates, asking questions and providing feedback.
– Students have several options on how to show what they have learned: a written response, recording a video or podcast, creating a pamphlet or infographic, or suggesting an alternative (one student wants to do a rap and the teacher agrees).
– The teacher provides a word bank with target vocabulary, a single-point rubric, and a checklist so students can self-assess before submitting their work.
Novak draws a distinction between differentiation and Universal Design for Learning: differentiation adapts the content, process, product, and environment to meet individual students’ needs (in the PTO breakfast analogy, this is like having a special option for the vegan group). UDL has students reflecting, making choices, and building ownership of their learning, with direct support when necessary; they are self-differentiating and building autonomy and independence. The implicit message from teachers: You are important and I will honor you with instruction that holds you accountable and empowers you to take ownership of your own learning.
“If Equity Is a Priority, UDL Is a Must” by Katie Novak in Cult of Pedagogy, March 21, 2021; Novak’s book, with co-author Mirko Chardin, is Equity by Design (Corwin 2020)
5. Can People Be “Inoculated” Against Online Nonsense?
In this article in Behavioral Scientist, Jon Roozenbeek, Melisa Basol, and Sander van der Linden (University of Cambridge, U.K.) say that “misinformation – both intentional and unintentional – is difficult to fight once it’s out in the digital wild.” Viral falsehoods take on a life of their own, often sticking in people’s minds and being accepted as factual – especially if they’re repeated.
Roozenbeek, Basol, and van der Linden suggest a novel approach for preventing the spread of misinformation: prebunking – giving people the tools to resist seduction by falsehoods and avoid playing a part in spreading them. This strategy is analogous to being immunized against a disease: vaccinations expose people to a weakened dose of a pathogen to trigger the production of antibodies that fight a full-fledged onslaught of germs. Prebunking exposes people to a watered-down version of a piece of misinformation to build resistance to more-virulent manipulation.
Prebunking sounds promising, but it isn’t helpful if it’s too narrow, building resistance to only one type of junk information. How can people get better at spotting and squelching a broader spectrum? Researchers believe the best strategy is to build awareness of the most common manipulative techniques, so people understand the ways in which they are vulnerable and become savvier at pushing back. Roozenbeek, Basol, van der Linden, and their colleagues designed a series of free online games that have been played over a million times around the world:
– Bad News – Players are exposed to six common misinformation techniques, including emotional buzzwords like “horrific” and “terrifying,” all of which get people jazzed up about spreading information.
– Harmony Square – Produced by the Department of Homeland Security, this game targets election misinformation and puts players in the role of a “bad guy” trying to stir up conflict in a community. “There’s no better way to inoculate yourself than to walk a mile in the shoes of someone trying to dupe you,” say the authors.
– Go Viral! – Designed in the U.K., Go Viral! focuses on Covid-19 misinformation, addressing fearmongering, using fake experts, and coming up with conspiracy theories.
The games are designed to make people realize how vulnerable they are and build the skills necessary to identify, argue against, and prevent the spread of harmful misinformation.
Roozenbeek, Basol, and van der Linden report preliminary results showing that after playing the games, people are more skeptical of manipulative social media messages, more confident in their own judgment, and less likely to share dubious information. The downsides: people need “booster shots” of game-playing because their resistance tends to atrophy; people need help identifying high-quality, credible news – perhaps they become skeptical of everything; and there’s the perennial challenging of reaching the people who would benefit most from the intervention.
“A New Way to Inoculate People Against Misinformation” by Jon Roozenbeek, Melisa Basol, and Sander van der Linden in Behavioral Scientist, February 22, 2021; the authors are at firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, and firstname.lastname@example.org.
6. Should History Classes Teach American Exceptionalism?
In this Washington Post article, Daniel Immerwahr (Northwestern University) reports that in a 2012 survey, 70 percent of U.S. citizens said their country was the greatest in the world. This seems like a healthy emotion, since people who are proud of a nation are more likely to uphold its institutions, respect its laws, and share a common purpose. But a recent study found only 54 percent see the United States as exceptional. There’s a left/right split on the issue, with progressives more likely to focus on how an imperfect nation might better realize its ideals, and conservatives lauding patriotic achievements and civic and military service. But the more-recent survey documented declines across the political spectrum.
This raises the question of why we teach history. “Should students learn their country’s virtues or shortcomings?” asks Immerwahr. “Should they leave class feeling proud or ashamed?” Neither, he says; the purpose of a curriculum is to promote knowledge, not emotions. “The aim of a geometry class is not for students to love or hate triangles but to learn the Pythagorean theorem. Similarly, the point of U.S. history isn’t to have students revere or reject the country but to help them understand it… By imagining history class as a pep rally or a gripe session, we squeeze the history out of it.”
How great are we? is the wrong question for a history class, says Immerwahr. “‘How did we get here?’ is closer to the mark. The aim of history class isn’t to get students to love or loathe their country. It’s to prepare them to live in it.”
So what should the history curriculum look like in classrooms? For one thing, he believes, history teachers should contrast the political, social, and intellectual scene of the 1700s with current realities: “It was an honor society where leading politicians responded to slights by fighting fatal duels. It was a hierarchical society, where, according to the Articles of Confederation, ‘paupers’ and ‘vagabonds’ weren’t due the protection of the law. And it was, of course, a slave society, where the national bank issued loans using human captives as collateral.”
How things have changed! “The most compelling case for national greatness,” Immerwahr continues, “if you’re playing that game, is that the country is ironically great, in that it started with dubious ideals but, fortunately, failed to realize them.” Why? Because people pushed back, fought and in many cases died, and ultimately prevailed against archaic values and institutions. Politicians point with pride to a variety of national achievements. Thomas Jefferson, asked to defend the virtues of the new nation, pointed to the size of its quadrupeds.
Good history teaching helps students see this moving target, Immerwahr concludes. “It doesn’t treat the United States as an unvarying force for freedom or oppression but as an arena where worldviews compete. Students learn that different people had irreconcilable dreams, clashing understandings of what made their country ‘great.’ They learn that history is messy… The point of history is not to list all the things that have happened, nor to strike some desired balance between them. It’s to understand origins, persistence, and change… It gives them the intellectual tools to act on their society: a complex, dynamic place that is theirs to change or conserve.”
“History Isn’t Just for Patriots” by Daniel Immerwahr in The Washington Post, December 23, 2020; Immerwahr can be reached at email@example.com.
7. Recommended Children’s Picture Books and Novels
In this review in Language Arts, Jeanne Gilliam Fain and six colleagues highlight the 2020 Notable ELA Children’s Books (click the link below to see cover images, publishers, and short descriptions):
– The Bell Rang by James Ransome
– The Book Rescuer: How a Mensch from Massachusetts Saved Yiddish Literature for Generations to Come by Sue Macy, illustrated by Stacy Innerst
– Born to Ride: A Story About Bicycle Face by Larissa Theule, illustrated by Kelsey Garrity-Riley
– Carter Reads the Newspaper by Deborah Hopkinson, illustrated by Don Tate
– Feed Your Mind: A Story of August Wilson by Jen Bryant, illustrated by Cannaday Chapman
– Freedom Soup by Tami Charles, illustrated by Jacqueline Alcántara
– Going Down Home with Daddy by Kelly Starling Lyons, illustrated by Daniel Minter
– Grandpa’s Stories: A Book of Remembering by Joseph Coelho, illustrated by Allison Colpoys
– I Remember: Poems and Pictures of Heritage compiled by Lee Bennett Hopkins
– Insect Superpowers: 18 Real Bugs That Smash, Zap, Hypnotize, Sting, and Devour! by Kate Messner, illustrated by Jillian Nickell
– Lion of the Sky: Haiku for All Seasons by Laura Purdie Salas, illustrated by Mercè López
– The Magic of Letters by Tony Johnston, illustrated by Wendell Minor
– A Plan for Pops by Heather Smith, illustrated by Brooke Kerrigan
– Rise! From Caged Bird to Poet of the People, Maya Angelou by Bethany Hegedus, illustrated by Tonya Engel
– Room on Our Rock by Kate and Jol Temple, illustrated by Terri Rose Baynton
– Say Something! by Peter Reynolds
– Small World by Ishta Mercurio, illustrated by Jen Corace
– Soldier for Equality: José de la Luz Sáenz and the Great War by Duncan Tonatiuh
– Thanku: Poems of Gratitude edited by Miranda Paul, illustrated by Marlena Myles
– Beverly, Right Here by Kate DiCamillo
– Dream Within a Dream by Patricia MacLachlan
– Free Lunch by Rex Ogle
– Genesis Begins Again by Alicia Williams
– Look Both Ways: A Tale Told in Ten Blocks by Jason Reynolds, illustrated by Alexander Nabaum
– New Kid by Jerry Craft
– Other Words for Home by Jasmine Warga
– Searching for Lottie by Susan Ross
– Soaring Earth by Margarita Engle
– To Night Owl from Dogfish by Holly Goldberg Sloan and Meg Wolitzer
“The 2020 Notable Children’s Books in the English Language Arts” by Jeanne Gilliam Fain, Vera Ahiyya, Elizabeth Bemiss, Janine Schall, Rebecca Leigh, Jennifer Summerlin, and Kathryn Will in Language Arts, March 2021 (Vol. 98, #4, pp. 208-223); Fain can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
8. Books for Students to Read with Popular Movies and TV Shows
n this School Library Journal article, Abby Johnson suggests books that students might want to read with popular films and online features (click the link below for more details on each book):
Cobra Kai (Netflix), a reboot of the 1984 Karate Kid movie
– Becoming Muhammad Ali by Kwame Alexander and James Patterson (grade 4-8)
– The Berlin Boxing Club by Rob Sharenow (grade 7 and up)
– Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass by Meg Medina (grade 7 and up)
Chaos Walking (Lionsgate, in theaters, PG-13), adapted from The Knife of Never Letting Go
– Feed by M.T. Anderson (grade 8 and up)
– The Marrow Thieves by Cherie Dimaline (grade 8 and up)
– Scythe by Neal Shusterman (grade 8 and up)
Shadow and Bone (Netflix), adapted from the first book in the Grisha trilogy
– A Song of Wraiths and Ruin by Roseanne Brown (grade 9 and up)
– The Crown’s Game by Evelyn Skye (grade 8 and up)
– The Silver Phoenix: Beyond the Kingdom of Xia by Cindy Pon (grade 9 and up)
– Spinning Silver by Naomi Novik (grade 9 and up)
“Have a Book With That Show” by Abby Johnson in School Library Journal, March 2021 (Vol. 67, #3, pp. 58-59)
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